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Germany in Texas

The hill country of central Texas is distinctively different from the flat grassland and forests of the eastern lowlands and from the great prairies of west Texas. It is a land of low-forested hills interspersed with fertile river valleys. The hill country is a very pretty part of the great state. It is also very German.

Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels Texas © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
New Braunfels is home to the Schlitterbahn, one of the largest and grandest water parks in the USA.

German towns in the Texas hill country

Towns with names like Fredricksburg, New Braunfels, Bergheim and Boerne reveal the Germanic influence on the early settlement in this area. At first glance, Fredricksburg appears to be a typical old western town complete with storefronts and saloon facades that look like they came out of a cowboy movie. You soon notice that the restaurants all feature sauerbraten, bratwurst and apple strudel along with Texas barbecue and chili. In the saloons, bearded old men, wearing cowboy boots and jeans, sit at their stammtisch conversing in old German dialect. This is the German cowboy country in Texas.

New Braunfels, located about 30 miles north of San Antonio, was one of the earliest German settlements in the area. Prince Carl of Solms Braunfels founded it in 1845. Today, the town still bears the imprint of its German roots. Houses and buildings near the old town center have a distinctively German style and the restaurants all serve German foods. It is home to the Schlitterbahn, one of the largest and grandest water parks in the USA. Water slides and wave pools surround a replica of an old German castle and the entire park is built in a German motif.

Fredricksburg is the largest German town

During the mid-nineteenth century when social and political conditions became intolerable in some of the German principalities, many families immigrated to Texas. German artists, writers, poets, university professors and scholars, fearing persecution in their homeland, came to Texas and became farmers, ranchers and cowboys. It is estimated that over 10,000 German families came to this part of Texas at that time.

Baron von Meusebach meets the Comanche in Fredricksburg Texas © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Baron von Meusebach meets the Comanche.

Fredricksburg is the largest of the German towns in Texas and it retains much of its old German heritage and culture. The residents hold Sangerfests, Shützenfests, Weinfests, Kinderfests and a traditional Octoberfest every year. They also hold rodeos, barbecues and an Indian powwow. It is one of the most interesting towns in the USA, and it has a fascinating history.

It began in 1842 when a group of noblemen met at a village along the Rhine River and formed the Mainzer Adelsverein, better known as the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. They planned to purchase large tracts of inexpensive land and to create towns for the settlement of German immigrants. In 1844, the group sent Prince Carl of Braunfels to the new lands as their first Commissioner General. He managed to establish an initial colony at New Braunfels just north of San Antonio, but soon became the victim of unscrupulous scoundrels that sold him worthless land grants. His lack of good business judgment left the Adelsverein near bankrupt.

Baron von Meusebach and the Comanche Indians

In 1845, the Adelsverein dispatched an able administrator named Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach to Texas. He quickly straightened out the financial affairs, purchased land in the hill country along the Pedernales River 80 miles northwest of New Braunfels and laid out a new town that he named Fredricksburg. By 1847, it became apparent that the fierce Comanche Indians in the area were unwilling to relinquish their lands to this new group of foreign intruders.

In January of 1847, Baron von Meusebach, along with an interpreter and a small band of men, rode to the main camp of the Comanche along the Saba River. He negotiated a treaty with the Comanche chiefs that allowed the German colonists to live in peace at Fredricksburg in return for several thousand dollars worth of gifts. It is generally believed that this is the only treaty between native Indians and European colonists that has never been broken. On the second Saturday of each May, they celebrate Founder's Day in Fredricksburg. It is a great German heritage festival and an Indian powwow that always includes a meeting between the surviving descendants of Baron von Meusebach and the descendants of the Comanche chiefs that negotiated the original treaty. Gifts are exchanged, the peace pipe is smoked, and the treaty is reaffirmed.

Vereins Kirche in Fredricksburg Texas © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The old octagonal Vereins Kirche, affectionately known as the coffee grinder, sits in the middle of town with a pioneer museum just down the street.

Things to see near Fredricksburg

Fredricksburg is a great place to visit. It still retains its German culture but also includes many old western cowboy customs. The old octagonal Vereins Kirche, affectionately known as the coffee grinder, sits in the middle of town with a pioneer museum just down the street. Fredricksburg has a good selection of hotels and many Bed and Breakfast establishments. It is renowned for its shops featuring local crafts and its restaurants offering good German cuisine. You can reach it by driving an hour and a half north from San Antonio along route 10 or on the more picturesque route 281. It is an hour drive west of Austin, the capital of Texas.

Fredricksburg is home to the Admiral Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War housed in the old Nimitz hotel on Hauptstrasse. Within 30-minutes drive to the east, lies the LBJ Ranch of President Lyndon B Johnson and his boyhood home and early farm. They have interesting exhibits of early Texas farming and of Texas cattle ranching. In the surrounding countryside, you can visit wildflower farms, herb farms and several wineries. Yes, they make wine in Texas!

Luckenbach, Texas (population: three) is a short drive south of Fredricksburg in the middle of nowhere. This bend in the road has an old post office that includes a general store, a saloon and sometimes a blacksmith shop. The only other feature in town is an old-time Texas dancehall that features western music and dancing on weekends. It was made famous when Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings recorded country music hits titled "Come to Luckenbach, Texas".

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: Baron von Meusebach meets the Comanche